The Song of Songs is one of those writings in the Bible which doesn't get read a lot. Many people don't know what to do with it. They keep wondering when it is going to start talking about God. But it never does. It feels a bit strange to be reading about sexual attraction, desire, sensuous descriptions and a man and woman deeply in love and enthralled by their kisses and caresses. It draws beautiful pictures of sensuous love, but never objectifies the lover or the beloved. And it's in the Bible.
The marvels of sexual desire have fallen on hard times in our day. We use sex to sell everything from applesauce to zippers. Much of the contemporary thinking and experience of sex is like a river a mile wide and an inch deep. Of course essentially all societies have abused and misused sex. From temple prostitution to wholesale rape by conquering armies to child molestation, sex has been used to demean persons and to make objects of persons made in God's image. The positive, moving narrative of the Song stands in radical contrast to that abuse, and offers a fresh and healthy perspective on human sexual desire. .
I have long believed that we should find age-appropriate ways to incorporate something of the mysteries and the depth of the sexual relationship into what we teach our children about sex. Of course the old "birds and bees" approach doesn't make much sense today. When a father tells his 12-year-old son he wants to talk to him about sex, the son could say, "Ok, dad. What do you want to know?" But I am sure that boy has no idea how precious is the bond between lovers who are deeply committed to each other, and who rejoice in the soaring experience of romantic love. The boy has likely learned about sex from a culture which sees sex as a kind of fast-fun restaurant, or cut-rate buffet. He will be fortunate if he can learn to think of it as more analogous to a lifelong banquet.
Perhaps the best way for our children to learn something of the wonder of romantic love is to see it in their parents. Parents who respect one another, and let their children see that they enjoy one another, can lay the groundwork for healthy marriages and home life for their children. The children grow up knowing the difference between using and loving, and the difference between persons and objects.
I wonder whether the romantic relationship might be a kind of a template for all the relationships in our lives. If I can respect my beloved, and value the character and gifts and rights of my beloved, perhaps I can do the same for others. If I can come to see my beloved as a person in his or her own right, having value equal to my own, and longings and needs and desires every bit as important as my own, then perhaps I can do the same for others. But if I see the beloved as existing for my convenience or comfort or pleasure, then probably I will think of others in the same way. Perhaps I cannot truly value God, until I can truly value another person. Perhaps this is why religion is sometimes just a cheap substitute for loving God.
Maybe the Song is a doorway to the real sexual revolution. It offers a positive counterpoint to a society in which both drug-induced erections and divorce law are multi-billion dollar operations. Perhaps it can help to rescue some of us from focus on performance and erogenous zones and orgasms, and lead us to a more adult sexuality in which the focus is on the beloved, the best part is loving and being loved, and we understand the difference between people and toys.
JIM DINSMORE lives in Tehachapi. His column, "The Human Scene" appears regularly in the Tehachapi News.